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IMB plans hurricane relief for hard-hit Caribbean islands

ST. CHRISTOPHER, Leeward Islands (BP)–Oliver Bourne crouched in an inner hall of his house for two hours along with his family waiting for Hurricane Georges to push by. It seemed like an eternity.
“There was so much flying debris,” Bourne said. “All you could hear was the wind and things hitting the side of the building.”
Four hours later, the sun revealed the storm damage. More than 12,500 homes — 85 percent off all houses on the island — were destroyed or damaged.
The extensive damage across the Caribbean created an immediate need for volunteers and monetary donations to help people rebuild their devastated lives, said a Southern Baptist disaster relief expert. The need is compounded by massive flooding in Bangladesh, for which Southern Baptist missionaries also are mobilizing relief ministries.
“Hurricane Hugo [1989] and Hurricane Luis [1995] came through here and neither did this much damage,” Bourne said. “Luis was three days and didn’t do the damage Georges did in an hour and a half.”
Georges cut a path through the Leeward Islands causing heavy damage to St. Christopher (St. Kitts), Antigua and Saba. Kitts lost more than 50 percent of its 1998 sugar cane crop. Almost half the churches on the island were destroyed and 80 percent of the hospital was blown away.
“These people are going to have a real challenge rebuilding,” said Eddie Pettit, a disaster damage assessor who works for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. “They’ve lost more than 25 percent of the available resources for rebuilding. When you’re talking about 12,500 homes that need repair, you’re talking about a large-scale task.”
Pettit arrived on the scene just days after the hurricane hit, assessing how Southern Baptists can best respond to help people recover.
“Southern Baptists have a long history of helping in these situations,” he said. “There are certain things we do well where we find a niche. Most governments and outside organizations generally work in the short-term. We focus on the long-term.
“We can respond immediately with water purifiers and with feeding programs, but one of our strengths is construction. A lot of these people won’t have the means to rebuild, so we will come in and help them get their lives back together.”
Pettit said there is an immediate need for teams to stretch plastic across damaged roofs. Afternoon rain showers continue to cause property damage where interiors are still exposed.
“This is a critical area,” said Peter Jenkins, director for damage assessment on St. Kitts. “Many of the areas hardest hit are very poor where the people don’t have insurance. Many have lost everything. They have just been devastated.”
As critical as the need is for construction teams, the need for Southern Baptists to rally financially is more pressing. Money used to purchase building materials, blankets and plastic to cover roofs comes from the International Mission Board’s general relief fund. With more than 20 million people in Bangladesh facing hunger and disease due to monsoon flooding, and now thousands more facing similar circumstances in the Caribbean Basin, Southern Baptist mission leaders have issued an urgent appeal for relief gifts.
The relief fund — currently containing about $400,000 — is inadequate to meet the needs related to either disaster.
“This has been an incredible year for disasters,” said Bill Cashion, human needs consultant for the International Mission Board. “We know we can’t meet every need around the world, but right now we really need to have $1 million available to adequately deal with the basic needs people have as a result of these two disasters.”
Teams of volunteers are being recruited to go to the islands. Those interested in participating in a project, or in obtaining more information about future projects, may contact Joyce Glover at (804) 219-1331.
Southern Baptists who want to contribute to the effort can send gifts designated for “general relief” to: Southern Baptist World Relief, Office of Finance, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.